Yes, it is a glass ceiling with some cracks, but it is not shattered! The business world has not yet embraced women and diversity in the C-suite, nor in the boardroom, nor in any industry to date. Twenty years later, we are still explaining the persistence of that glass ceiling.
Nationally, in the boardroom female representation is 17.9%. In Maryland, Virginia, and the District, women hold 14% of the board positions at publicly traded companies. When you look at these boards, you will see a cadre of retired male executives. According to Women in Technology, a nonprofit group in Falls Church, VA, 25% of the 250 publicly traded companies in the DC region do not have women on their boards.
Changing the status quo is still a very slow process. That glass ceiling is a barrier so “subtle that it is transparent, yet so strong that it prevents women from moving up the corporate hierarchy”. From their vantage point on the corporate ladder, women can see the high-level corporate positions but are kept from reaching the top.
As for the boardroom, corporate boards do not have term limits or age restrictions, which mean members often remain in board positions for years, if not decades. And when a spot does open up, executives generally fill it with their peers, who just happen to be white males. In the C-suite, as well as in the boardroom, the number-one limiting belief is that they don’t know (or recognize) many women who are qualified or board-ready, or who are perceived as “leaders” in the C-suite.
But they’re out there. You just don’t – or won’t – see them.
Women’s abilities are more harshly judged than men. Holding women to higher standards and evaluating female leaders and prospective board members more critically than their male counterparts is common practice.
While overt discrimination seems to be on the way out of organizations, subtle gender discrimination still exists and accounts for so few significant cracks in the glass ceiling. Such discrimination, mostly exemplified in cultural norms, is so entrenched in some organizations that it is difficult to detect, and only incremental steps aimed at changing bias can chip away at the barriers that keep women from moving into senior levels and the boardroom.
Companies that succeed in changing the gender dynamic have major initiatives such as training programs for valuing gender diversity; changing recruiting patterns to eliminate bias, and setting specific succession goals that include women in senior positions. In other words, these companies walk their talk and make gender diversity part of their culture all the way into the boardroom.
If we are to see significant changes within leadership, organizations must create and implement executive development programs that include issues addressing gender diversity and transformational leadership in order to change preconceived ideas, bias, and assumptions about women’s abilities to lead.
And then, just maybe that glass ceiling will be shattered!